Photo by Jessica Elmendorf
Karenne Wood is a respected historian, writer and poet, from the Monacan Nation in Virginia where she sat on the Tribal Council, is involved in State programs involving Native Culture, has an MFA in poetry and a PhD in linguistic anthropology. She is the author of 'Weaving the Boundary."

5 Native Selections for National Poetry Month

Alex Jacobs

It’s National Poetry Month and poets, writers and storytellers are on the move across the country. So we should do our part and catch up on what’s new in the world of Native poetry, these Native writers and titles come highly recommended by other poets. Please enjoy them and try to catch a reading, attend a performance or otherwise support Native literature.

Trevino L. Brings Plenty – “Wakpa’ Wana’gi, Ghost River”, Backwaters Press (2015)  

There is buzz on the moccasin wire about what Trevino Brings Plenty brings to the gathering. He is “an American, mixed and Lakota” born on the Cheyenne River Sioux Rez; a poet, musician and performing artist based in Portland, Oregon. Called a “visionary” whose poems “can heal.” He invokes Iktomi the Lakota trickster as he sets out to “map the spirit world.”

The praise and recommendations come from on high for Wakpa Wanagi, Ghost River. Brings Plenty has read/performed poetry from Portland’s Wordstock Festival to Amman, Jordan. On April 14, he will perform at Split This Rock Poetry Festival in Washington DC, with Heid Erdrich, Deborah Miranda, Eric Gansworth, and Karenne Wood.

“Ghost River” by Trevino L Brings Plenty

I’m mostly water./ There has been family swept under by raw currents.

I’m from planters by the river./ We dredged riverbed bones.

Water is faces lined blue./ Red horses bay bodies hooked from fish line.

And what was sown, brown hands dug free.

I’m mostly other people./ Family is pulled pail full from source.

I’m from river people./ We prep the light from matted hair./ Water catches flame.

The black horses hoof rock, halving them like thin, infant skulls.

And what was sown, brown hands dug free.

Lois Red Elk – “Why I Return to Makoce”, Many Voices Press – Flathead Valley Community College, 2015.

Lois Red Elk-Reed is a teacher at Fort Peck Community College in Montana and calls herself a “culturalist” because teaching all aspects of the D/Lakota culture is important. She spent many years in Los Angeles in the film industry as an actor, cultural advisor, in broadcast media and as a 40 year member of SAG and AFTRA. “My writings reflect my life as a cultural human being trying very hard to walk the Red Road in an intruding culture that has no understanding of being human, or being related to the Earth and all that she provides us.”

“To Come Back” – If one chooses to look very carefully, after the intense inferno, after the smoke clears, there among the embers and ash one can watch the arrival of a single blade of grass. One can see the careful pace of beetle legs revisiting new life. Then one can hear the lone restored song of the meadowlark and inhale the fresh smell of the homecoming rain. It is then, in the assembling and mending that it will be safe to come back to who you were meant to be. In that time. ©Lois Red Elk

Tiffany Midge – “The Woman Who Married A Bear”, University of New Mexico Press, 2016.

An old Iroquois legend that the mythologist Joseph Campbell liked, ended with “What did you expect when you married a snake?” And Tiffany Midge’s title poem kind of goes that way in that your response would be, “Well what did you expect when you married a Bear? But, the sex was incredible…” and other assorted tales from the fire, the stars and moon. And also Coyote, Little Big Horn, Wakantanka, holocausts, horses, sacred geographies, antiquing and Indians playing jazz.

“Evenings, his voice edged the cords coiled/along her spine like a harp. His dreaming hands/arranged the dark veil of her hair, quickened into song/each plait a river of sound combed between his claws.”

Karenne Wood – “Weaving the Boundary”, University of Arizona Press (Sun Tracks #79), 2016.

Karenne Wood is a respected historian, writer and poet, from the Monacan Nation in Virginia where she sat on the Tribal Council, is involved in State programs involving Native Culture, has an MFA in poetry and a PhD in linguistic anthropology. She “weaves” her professional knowledge with tribal histories, storytelling and 500 years of native-settler conflict along the Atlantic coast. “It is all of what happened, not some of what some have said happened.” According to many Native poets, Wood delivers an absorbing read about love and betrayal, loss and forgiveness, a violent history with real and imagined people (Matoaka, also called Pocahontas). Their truths are untold until Wood weaves them into the present. “Nothing was discovered. Everything was already loved.”

A passage from “The Naming” by Karenne Wood.

“With our tongues we offered/ names to the waters that still speak of us:

Shenandoah, Mississippi, Iowa. Minnesota, Niagara, Illinois.

Will our enemy’s children/ hear the rivers singing those names?

Among our stories it is told/ how a chief led the remnants/ of his people across a great river.

Striking his stake upon the dry ground/ he exclaimed, “Alabama!”

Here we may rest.”

Tanaya Winder – “Words Like Love”, West End Press, 2015.

Both book and poet have taken off, Winder (Ute/Shoshone/Paiute) needs a booking agent as she’s now in demand as a motivational speaker, presenter and poet. There are certain books that come along that aren’t big but are just plain necessary. You would think in the world of poetry that words of love are commonplace, but if people need to hear it and are responding as they are, then something was “missing”, you could say.

Winder said in an ICTMN interview, “With all of these different forms of love, we can get lost in what love is or what it smells like, tastes like, looks like and feels like. We can confuse other actions or words with love and that is how Words Like Love came about.”

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